Brazil president lambastes bribe testimony by JBS executives

Brazilian President Michel Temer on Saturday angrily challenged a recorded conversation implicating him in a corruption probe, saying he would continue as president and ask the Supreme Court to verify the integrity of the recording.

“Brazil will not be derailed,” he said during a speech at the presidential palace, reiterating that he would not resign despite an ongoing investigation by the Supreme Court into allegations he took bribes and condoned the payment of hush money to a jailed congressman.

Temer, visibly defiant, said he would ask the court to suspend an investigation against him until it could determine whether the recording, made by the chairman of meatpacker JBS SA during a March conversation, was edited afterwards.

The recording, which some local media have said shows signs of editing, is part of plea-bargain testimony by JBS executives that was disclosed this week.

The disclosure rattled Brazilian financial markets, cost Temer key congressional allies and led to widespread calls for his resignation. It also undermined efforts by Temer to pass economic reforms considered crucial to revive Brazil’s economy after its worst recession on record.

The testimony, part of an ongoing string of major probes into corruption at the highest levels of Brazilian government and business, also claimed JBS paid millions in illegal campaign financing to Temer and his predecessors, leftists Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

In his speech Saturday, Temer lashed out at Joesley Batista, the JBS chairman, and other company executives, saying they were angry with his conservative government’s austerity plans and efforts to curb the generous public financing of private companies that typified the administrations of his predecessors.

JBS, now the world’s largest meat processor, grew rapidly through acquisitions during the Rousseff and Lula governments, mostly because of large, low-cost loans by the national development bank.

Calling their testimony “riddled with lies,” Temer said there were inconsistencies in the JBS executives’ statements to prosecutors. He also seized upon ongoing investigations by Brazil’s securities regulator, known as the CVM, to question their motivations.

On Friday, the CVM said it was probing recent trades in stock and currency markets that earned JBS’ controlling shareholders windfalls, even as they were giving plea testimony that would eventually affect the value of JBS stock and Brazil’s currency, the real.

Joesley Batista, who was allowed to leave Brazil and return to a Manhattan apartment after his testimony, “speculated against the national currency,” Temer said, yet was now “loose and free to walk the streets of New York.”

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